By Yoo Jee-ho
INCHEON, Sept. 23 (Yonhap) -- For all his prowess at the plate, South Korean baseball slugger Park Byung-ho had a mediocre night at the plate against the heavy underdog Thailand on Monday.
Park Byung-ho, the South Korean captain at the ongoing Asian Games, is the country's premier power hitter. He has led the top competition, the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), in homers in each of the past two years, and is leading the pack again this year with 48.
Yet in his first at-bat at the Asiad, Park struck out swinging, fanning on a pitch by Thai starter Wissaroot Sihamat that was measured at just 105 kilometers per hour (65.2 miles per hour) on the speed gun.
It was the only strikeout that South Korea suffered in its 15-0 victory over Thailand.
This was Park's first international game at the senior level, and he admitted afterward to having some butterflies in his stomach.
"I finally relaxed after I got my first hit later," Park said with a smile. He went 2-for-4 for the day with an RBI and a run scored. "I was nervous because this was my national team debut at this level. I didn't strike out because I took the opponent lightly. I knew there was some discrepancy in talent level between the two teams, but I took this game seriously. I wouldn't put too much stock into this strikeout."
Park also dispelled concerns that facing soft-tossing pitchers might throw South Korean hitters off their rhythm when they face stronger teams such as Japan and Chinese Taipei, whose pitchers are known to throw their fastballs around 150 kilometers per hour.
"I don't think (the drastic change of speed) will affect us that much," said Park, who could become just the third KBO player to hit 50 homers in a season this year. "We're all accustomed to facing hard-throwing pitchers in our league."
South Korea will next face Chinese Taipei on Wednesday. The two countries are expected to advance to the semifinals out of their group and to clash again in the gold medal game.
"We already know, having watched videos, that they have strong pitchers," Park said. "We're going to have to prepare accordingly."